Vigil in Minneapolis, Minnesota after the Orlando Pulse shooting. Photo by Flickr user Fibonacci Blue.
I do not know anyone who was directly affected by last weekend’s terrible events in Orlando, but for me they nevertheless struck painfully close to home – and not just because I live in Florida.
I went to bed Friday night without first checking social media (in other words, I was uncharacteristically acting my age), so I did not hear about the shooting and subsequent death of Christina Grimmie until Saturday morning. Grimmie, a 22-year-old pop singer, was attacked by an apparently deranged fan as she signed autographs and greeted admirers after her performance with the band Before You Exit. Grimmie’s brother tackled the shooter, 27-year-old Kevin James Loibl of St. Petersburg, Florida, and in the ensuing struggle Loibl reportedly shot himself. Grimmie died at a nearby hospital a short time later.
Grimmie had been a finalist on season 6 of “The Voice.” One of her fellow contestants, Madilyn Paige, is scheduled to perform at a couple of events my company is sponsoring in Nashville next week. They became friends when they were teenagers on the show together. My first thought was for Madilyn and her parents. My second thought was for other performers whom I have gotten to know in the past several years, and for those I don’t know but who, like Selena Gomez, were traumatized by Grimmie’s death. They may be stars, but they are still very young, too young to have to grieve for a lost friend.
Celebrities like The Beatles literally ran from their fans when I was growing up. The chase scenes in the 1964 film “A Hard Day’s Night” were drawn from real life. While some of today’s biggest stars may also avoid close contact with strangers, the meet-and-greet is pretty much a given at most tour events these days. It is virtually mandatory for aspiring young performers like Grimmie. A tour like the one she was on with Before You Exit is practically guaranteed to lose money, but it is an investment in building relationships with supporters, who help defray the costs by buying VIP tickets and autographed merchandise. The artists hope those supporters will, in turn, evangelize their work to others, eventually building a big enough fan base to at least make performing a viable career. A handful will parlay the results into something significantly bigger.
The performers I know don’t view these meet-and-greets as a chore; they love to meet their fans and always try to deliver something extra. According to one report, Grimmie thought Loibl wanted a hug as he approached her, and she opened her arms to embrace the man who came to kill her. I did not know Grimmie, but I do not doubt this information, because it sounds exactly like my own musician friends. I have seen them stand around for as long as it took to meet and converse with every fan who wanted to get some one-on-one time after a show. They don’t want anyone to go home disappointed.
On Sunday I awoke to the news of the mass shooting at the Pulse dance club. The worst mass shooting yet to occur in this country, it had just about every element this sort of nightmare can offer. It was a terror attack, a hate crime and the enraged outburst of an alienated and unstable young man sorely in need of mental health care, all at once. If you want to call it a security failure because shooter Omar Mateen had been on the FBI’s radar since 2013, go ahead, although this may very well be Monday-morning quarterbacking. Most of us will view it through the same prism that shapes how we see similar tragedies of the past.
As for me, I spent Saturday morning emailing venue managers to discuss security arrangements for our upcoming event. I spent Sunday trying to make sense of what happened at Pulse.
The Plaza Live, where Grimmie appeared, took all the usual and reasonable steps for a small concert at which no more than a couple of hundred people would be expected. Bags were examined at the door. Security personnel were nearby, although they were unarmed. The entire show was over by 10 p.m. There was no reason to expect rowdiness, let alone gunfire. I am sure there will be some investigation of how the killer got his weapons into the venue, but at this point it is not clear whether any additional security would have changed the outcome.
You have to be pretty lucky or well-connected to get a star’s autograph at a major league baseball game or a Broadway show, but all you need to have access to a performer at most concerts these days is a VIP ticket. In the case of lesser-known acts that get by on the sales of T-shirts and other “merch,” you don’t even need that.
While musicians may welcome face-to-face time with fans at performances, their home has to be a safe space. There are no security guards there. There may not even be the protective older brother with whom Grimmie traveled, and who is credited with saving untold other lives by tackling his sister’s assailant the night she died. A security system can help. Being anonymous can help even more.
This is why I am so frustrated at the ignorance – or indifference – displayed by some media outlets, notably including The New York Times and the Miami Herald, in their reporting on the use of limited liability companies and other entities to hold real estate. They have repeatedly insinuated that the primary purpose of holding property in these entities is tax evasion, while giving short shrift to the reality that in many places, you don’t need to be a celebrity to be a physical or financial target. You only need to have a bit more money than everyone else. And being a celebrity can make you a target even if you don’t have money.
Just a few weeks ago, I discussed with some of my colleagues the need to protect one of our clients, who is a performer, by making sure that her residence is owned or leased in a different name. I told the story of Rebecca Schaeffer, the 22-year-old television actress who was killed in her Los Angeles doorway in 1989 by an obsessed man who tracked her down via her driver’s license. California responded by changing its public disclosure laws, but the lessons of her death seem to have been forgotten by some of today’s journalists.
I never forgot the way Rebecca Schaeffer died; it has shaped my views on performer privacy and protection ever since. I’ll never forget what happened to Christina Grimmie either. And as for Pulse, I don’t imagine anyone old enough to know what happened there last weekend will forget that.